A Joyous Bedlam

by Michael Healy
photos by Sr. Christian Molidor, R.S.M.

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The old storeroom is now their favorite place.

For years, the children of the Maison du Sacre Coeur never knew it was there. Suffering from severe mental and physical disabilities, they lay in their cribs while the staff cared for them.

Now the children can’t keep still and want to be playing.

What’s gotten into these boys and girls – these children who will never get well?

The Daughters of Charity who have cared for the severely handicapped children of Maison du Sacre Coeur in Haifa have seen scores of children lovingly tended for years. Yet, they felt they were not doing enough to help them more fully live as persons. It is not enough just to love these children. They must be allowed to live, even in their feeble ways.

To improve the children’s lives, the Sisters of the Maison have developed a rehabilitation program. Their efforts have shaken the children from their idleness and charged them with life.

On the first floor of the Maison, the storeroom where old cribs and dust used to pile up is now a rehabilitation room. Clean and bright, it houses assorted physical therapy equipment. These inexpensive substitutes for unaffordable hospital equipment may look simplistic, but they effectively help the tykes awaken to the simple joy of movement.

The staff at the Maison has approached the therapy program creatively. Where the children had previously been cared for while they passed their short lives in cribs and strollers, they now move about and exercise their muscles. As they become more self-sufficient in caring for themselves, their lives take on added dignity.

While the therapy equipment does not look sophisticated, it works. For instance, a large bin – four feet high by six feet by twelve feet – containing colorful styrofoam about the size of softballs acts like a Hubbard tank, a water tank used in most hospitals for therapy. Children are placed in it to experiment with body motion. At first they are terrified of the unfamiliar surroundings and the strange sensations. But as they squirm about, they feel their bodies gently bend with the support of the balls – as if they were in water. They begin to relax and cannot help but delight in floating.

A physical therapist hired to direct the new program has also devised other equipment. On roller boards, the children can scoot about while they work their arms or legs. Old milk cartons weighted with small stones serve as large rattles while also exercising the children’s hands and arms. They also learn to use their legs while supported in walkers. When they must wait their turns or rest after using this equipment, they stand in padded support harnesses which let them watch the other children. All the devices allow the children to use their muscles and develop their coordination.

Once they have developed their muscular coordination enough to move about, there is no keeping them down. They delight in the adventure of working on the equipment, which they consider play. It is a new world for them to move about on their own and to feel control of what they are doing. For instance, Manal is a three-year-old hydrocephalic girl who was not expected to survive infancy. Today she feeds herself and darts about in a walker.

The rehabilitation program is only one of the new aspects of the Maison. Its staff continually identifies new concerns and responds with imaginative solutions.

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Tags: Children Israel Sisters Disabilities